Poverty is a violation of human rights that is a direct consequence of unequal power relations. Poverty is deepening; inequality and injustice are expanding at an unprecedented pace, resulting in exclusion, conflicts and the erosion of rights. Women, youth and people living in poverty and exclusion bear the brunt the most; they are overburdened by the grim situation they have to endure thus being vulnerable to poor security and experience greatest violation of their rights.
The political space, power and privileges have been captured by the elites who control power either visibly or invisibly. These trends raise many questions. What forms of governance can best protect and promote rights, deliver justice and build equity? How will these forms of governance provide integral spaces for participation?
Fair, accountable government is crucial to ending poverty and promoting human rights. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees people’s right to participate in government and governance processes, either individually or through chosen representatives.
Democracy is a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation and guided by the rule of law. In democracy, constitution guarantees basic human rights including personal and political rights, fair and free elections, and clear separation of powers between the institutions of the state namely the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
Deepening democracy requires empowering, mobilising, organising people living in poverty and exclusion and especially women into active rights holders able to make legitimate demands on government; and democratizing the state to become transparent and responsive. It involves deepening ways in which ordinary people can effectively participate in and influence policies that directly affect their lives. In this manner, the poor and the excluded can hold their government accountable to deliver desirable social good at all levels.
ActionAid supports women, men, and young people to hold governments and corporates accountable, fight for justice, end discrimination and corruption, and take control of the decisions that shape their lives. Evidence from our work points to the centrality of citizen’s participation in securing rights. The need for community –led processes is imperative and citizen’s leadership in setting the agenda is crucial. In Kilifi County, where we have modelled citizen leadership in demand for respect, promotion and protection of rights while holding state to account, the Citizen Forum successfully challenged structures of injustices by influencing development priorities and resource allocation. Women leadership in public service delivery has shown positive results in Kathonzweni in Kitui County. Use of accountability forums and social audit to demand better services and accountability from leaders in Embu, Baringo and Mombasa Counties has seen better service delivery that is also gender responsive.
The agenda and actions of social movements, civil society and emerging platforms of people and media assure an emergent force to build citizenship and rebalance power. These are spaces of freedom and democracy that can begin to counter the trend towards the centralization of wealth, knowledge and power. Citizen’s initiatives at the local and global level have an increasing potential to channel peoples’ aspirations and in the longer run, to radicalize democracy and build just governance.
Deepening democracy does not therefore mean participation by all citizens in all public decision at all level of government. Nor does it replace the representative democracy. Rather, it’s the people living in poverty and exclusion especially women and youth driving the change they desire.
Promoting inclusive governance processes is vital to enable women, minorities and vulnerable populations benefit from development, growth, opportunity and the realization of rights. Use of public spaces should be encouraged since it provides an opportunity for everyone to raise issues, present evidence or information, debate and discuss and participate. Every individual has one vote and every vote has equal value. Vote for the right leader!